Sep 10, 201810:16 AM
The Editor's Room
Weekly Commentary with New Orleans Magazine’s Errol Laborde
UNO at Sixty
10 Great Contributions
both photos facebook.com/UniversityOfNewOrleans/
For most of its existence, the school has been known as the University of New Orleans – though it was originally christened as LSUNO. Still young compared to its uptown elders, the university is celebrating its 60th anniversary this month. Times have been tough lately. Katrina was devastating. Budget cuts have caused programs to fold. Student enrollment, as is true with several area universities, has declined. (Still to be judged is the change of management from the LSU system to the University of Louisiana system, a move that is supposed to afford the university more needed attention.) Nevertheless the university remains as an important element of city life and very much a factor in what the future will be. In only six decades its impact is overwhelming. Here are some picks, in ascending order, of some notable influences to date:
10. Discovering New Geography
Many students raised in the New Orleans area discovered parts of town that they were not familiar with when they started attending UNO. Franklin Avenue, Elysian Fields, the east campus and just who was Leon C. Simon? The very act of going to UNO broadened students’ perspective of the city.
9. Barrier Breaking
Racial segregation was a sensitive issue in 1958 when the university first opened, but not on the Lakefront where the doors were open from the start. Even with the coming of nearby Southern University of New Orleans, which would be targeted toward black students, the new university quickly established a reputation for inclusion. Many students experienced racially mixed classes for the first time on the Lakefront campus.
8. John Altazan
He decided to stay for a while. The professor served as the dean of the university’s College of Business Administration for more than 30 years. During his tenure the university’s business school expanded from four faculty members overseeing one class of freshmen to four departments with more than 4,500 students. Altazan was one of the longest serving business school deans in the country.
7. Name Prestige
Whether it is public or private, it is good for a city to have its name attached to a university. Among southern cities Houston, Memphis, Louisville, Jacksonville and Miami all have it. Once the LS was dropped from the university’s name, New Orleans could stand out as a place not just for partying but for learning.
6. New Residents
As universities tend to do, UNO has through the decades attracted faculty members and students who became part of a professional economy. Many decided to stay and have remained active in the community.
5. Stephen Ambrose
There have been many great faculty members at the university, but none with the fame of this history professor. Ambrose was an expert in many areas of American history, but it was his expertise about World War II that most distinguished him. During the mid 1990s, as various events from the war reached their 50th anniversary, Ambrose was a regular on TV documentaries. Without Ambrose's expertise, connections and his financial generosity, there would be no museum to the war in New Orleans, now considered one of the great museums in the country. Ambrose carried the battle flag – and waved it victoriously.
All universities do this, but UNO allowed it to happen to more people and more often. The town is filled with friendships, relationships, business partnerships and even marriages that were linked by connections made on the campus. Without UNO many, many locals would be a lot poorer in terms of whom they know.
3. An Urban University
Through the years UNO faculty with expertise in urban planning, economics and business have provided knowledge and leadership to the community. Sometimes the university may have overextended its reach, but it has always been active in the community. New Orleans is a lot smarter because of the university.
2. Academic Standards
Never in its existence has UNO has a reputation for being an easy or pushover university. (To the contrary in its early days some quickly departed students referred to it as “Flunk Out U.”) UNO remains as a solid, no-nonsense university.
1. Making of a Middle Class.
Prior to 1958 New Orleans could be described as a city with a small but pronounced upper class and a huge underclass, but with a weak and faltering middle class. It is hard to imagine that the city went 240 years from its founding without having a permanent public university. Until UNO local students ready for college either had to be able to get into a private university or leave town. UNO changed that by giving many people a chance at higher education. The school has always been a commuter college, its students often holding jobs while matriculating. Into six decades UNO has given those students a chance to advance themselves and the city an opportunity to escape its former third world reputation. In its own quiet way, UNO may have saved the city whose name it carries – and no more can be asked on any university.
BOOK ANNOUNCEMENT: Errol’s Laborde’s books, “New Orleans: The First 300 Years” and “Mardi Gras: Chronicles of the New Orleans Carnival” (Pelican Publishing Company, 2017 and 2013), are available at local bookstores and at book websites.
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